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Archive for Wednesday, December 29, 1999

NO ROOM FOR ERROR

December 29, 1999

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Blaming two serious incidents at the Douglas County Jail on "errors" just isn't acceptable.

In the law enforcement business, there's not a lot of room for mistakes.

That's why you don't want to hear your sheriff use the word "error" to describe an event at the county jail. But that's exactly the word Douglas Sheriff Loren Anderson used to describe a couple of incidents this year that could have serious consequences.

The first time was last May, when the sheriff was talking about an alleged rape in the former Douglas County Jail. A woman who had been arrested, along with her husband, during a domestic dispute reported that she was raped April 18 in the jail's "dress-out room," where inmates changed from street clothes to jail clothes.

The alleged attacker was a male inmate who had entered the unlocked holding cell. It was unclear whether an officer escorted the man into the cell or he entered on his own. The sheriff declined to give details of the incident, but following an internal investigation, two jailers were disciplined. His statement on the incident was: "There was an error in there somewhere."

There also now is a lawsuit, filed by the woman against county officials including Anderson. It seeks more than $75,000 in damages.

Now, fast-forward to this month and the county's new jail on Kansas Highway 10 east of Lawrence. It came to light Monday that a federal prisoner transferred to the jail on Dec. 14 so he could stand trial on a 1993 auto theft was missing.

Anderson's statement: "Due to an error in the department, he bonded out on a $2,000 bond the same day."

Sheriff's officers, who run the jail, discovered the error a couple of days before the defendant was to appear for a court hearing last Wednesday. Not surprisingly, the defendant didn't show up for the hearing and is nowhere to be found. He was transferred here from Texas where he was serving time on a narcotics charge. A private investigator as well as the U.S. Marshal are trying to locate him so he can be returned to custody.

Nobody's perfect, but two such serious mistakes during several months at the jail seem to be cause for some concern. Although one incident occurred at the old jail in the Lawrence-Douglas County Law Enforcement Center downtown and the other in the new jail east of Lawrence, both apparently involved serious lapses by jail officers. County taxpayers have spent millions of dollars on a new jail, but any jail -- no matter how modern and sophisticated -- is only as good as the people who operate it.

A woman alleged she was raped while in custody. The case wasn't prosecuted, but the fact that two jailers were disciplined shows that mistakes were made. Then a convicted felon walks out of the jail in the middle of his sentence. Something is wrong, and the sheriff needs to get his house -- the county jail -- in order.

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